Local NewsIn Secret Recording, Top Kemah Officials Discuss Alleged Selective Code Enforcement

In a secretly recorded conversation, the city’s administrator told a council member he had issued a certificate of occupancy for a property under scrutiny.
December 5, 2022
In an unofficial meeting earlier this year, several top Kemah officials met and discussed multiple city issues, including code enforcement and issuance of a certificate of occupancy for a property with alleged code violations, in defiance of Mayor Carl Joiner.

The Texan obtained a recording of the meeting between Kemah City Council member Doug Meisinger, Police Chief Holland Jones, and City Administrator and former police chief Walter Gant at Meisinger’s business in September 2022.

During the recorded discussion, Meisinger described a phone call he received from former building code administrator Brandon Shoaf.

“[Shoaf] said, ‘Listen, the mayor came to see me with a document today.’ He said, ‘This is not a document that I am comfortable having. This has nothing to do with my job. I don’t want this. I will shred this at the end of the day. However, as it affects you, if you would like to come get it, I will give you this document.’”

Meisinger then described the cover sheet and accompanying spreadsheet highlighting properties allegedly owned by former Mayor Matt Wiggins that did not have inspections on file and/or had code deficiencies.

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Photo of a document Shoaf allegedly gave to Meisinger discussed in recording.
Photo of a document Shoaf allegedly gave to Meisinger discussed in recording.

“What he told Brandon [Shoaf] to do was use this to deny me a certificate of occupancy,” Meisinger told Gant and Jones.

In 2021, Meisinger was seeking necessary permits to open a new business in a building owned by Wiggins at 707 Bradford Street. According to city ordinance, if a property owner has pending violations or is out of compliance on other properties, “city staff shall issue no permit or certificate of any kind whatsoever.”

In addition to the other alleged Wiggins properties out of compliance, an inspection report from BBG Consulting dated January 13, 2022 listed six issues with the 707 Bradford Street property, but in the audio recording, Gant is heard telling Meisinger that he authorized the certificate of occupancy himself although his job had been threatened “four times.”

“So that was why all of a sudden I was, like, in hyper mode, go. Give him [certificate of occupancy], you know, and I did,” said Gant.

“Oh, yeah, I remember when you called me and you said you’re getting this thing today,” replied Meisinger.

In October, the Kemah City Council voted to file a complaint against Joiner and invite law enforcement agencies to investigate allegations that Joiner had ordered Jones to surveil Meisinger, a topic also discussed in the recorded conversation. But with the council’s vote on October 28, Joiner added that he wanted an investigation as to how the property at 707 Bradford Street had obtained a certificate of occupancy.

Joiner has also filed a lawsuit against the city, seeking the release of an investigative report that the city’s attorney is asking the Texas Office of the Attorney General (OAG) to allow them to block.

Jones is also the subject of a complaint and investigative report that the OAG has ruled must be made public, but law firm Lewis Brisbois, which compiled the report, has sued the OAG to block publication.

In response to an open records request from The Texan, Kemah Administrative Specialist Kirstie Harris responded that they did not have a list of properties owned by Wiggins or his company Pistol Point LLC.

According to state law, destruction, removal, or alteration of a government record could result in misdemeanor or felony tampering charges.

Several months prior to the recorded meeting, during a deposition for the federal lawsuit T&W Holding Company v. City of Kemah, Gant testified that he did not know when the city did or did not require a certificate of occupancy, when a certificate should be revoked, or the current operating code in the City of Kemah. He had served as the building code administrator for more than a year.

The T&W Holding lawsuit alleges that in 2021 the city refused to recognize city council-granted permits, some dating back to 2001, then towed a previously permitted food truck and forced the closure of several businesses at 606 and 608 6th Street after claiming the property had failed inspections and did not have permits.

Despite Gant’s earlier deposition, in a sworn statement submitted to the court in October 2022, he listed alleged code violations at the property not previously cited.

Joiner and the city council placed Gant on a performance improvement plan dated February 8, 2022, noting that he had not created procedures for permits, communicated with the council about how Shoaf had been hired as building official without credentials, or given council timely notifications about lawsuits filed against the City. Meisinger told The Texan his certificate of occupancy for 707 Bradford Street is dated February 10.

In the recorded conversation, Gant is heard telling Meisinger that the T&W lawsuit was only “about a food truck” and “they’ve just piled on other stuff to smoke screen.”

As the former building code administrator, Shoaf was also deposed for the T&W lawsuit. He told attorneys he had not conducted an inspection nor entered the property on 6th street that had been operating since 2001, but had observed a representative with Bureau Veritas as he inspected only the “outermost portion of the property.” Shoaf also said he answered to Gant during his stint with the city.

Kemah has previously been in the news for alleged selective code enforcement. In 2011, former Kemah fire marshal Larry Suniga told ABC13 that he had provided information to the FBI claiming then-Mayor Wiggins did not want his properties inspected. Former building administrator Jack Fryday also acknowledged there were no written fire inspection records on file for at least one Wiggins property at that time.

Concerns over Kemah’s file and document management have also been highlighted in the T&W Holding lawsuit, with former Mayor Terri Gale providing a sworn statement claiming that city officials had given a confidential file on the property to Wiggins, after which Gant and Shoaf began targeting the property.

In a related case, property owner Veronica Crow sent a demand letter to the city detailing her conflicts with Kemah and Shoaf over permits allegedly approved and then revoked, including a claim that documents submitted with her applications were later removed from her file and replaced with different documents.

During a city council meeting last February, Meisinger himself sought better controls and security for the city’s file room, saying, “The fact is there is no door there, there’s no camera there, there’s no nothing. It’s documented that some things have gone missing in this place.”

The Galveston County district attorney’s office did not return requests for comment prior to publication.

Correction: A previous version of this article stated that Gant was placed on a performance improvement plan before the certificate of occupancy was issued for 707 Bradford Street.


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Holly Hansen

Holly Hansen is a regional reporter for The Texan living in Harris County. Her former column, “All In Perspective” ran in The Georgetown Advocate, Jarrell Star Ledger, and The Hill Country News, and she has contributed to a variety of Texas digital media outlets. She graduated summa cum laude from the University of Central Florida with a degree in History, and in addition to writing about politics and policy, also writes about faith and culture.

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